Did This: Ezell - Ballad of a Land Man
Performance: Ezell: Ballad of a Land Man
Date: October 5th 2019
Organization: Clear Creek Creative
Key People: Bob Martin, Actor. Carrie Brunk, Producer. Nick Slie, Director.
Location: Clear Creek, Disputanta Kentucky
More info: https://www.clearcreekcreative.net/ezell
I watch Ezell: Ballad of a Land Man as a searing pain washed through my right arm like ocean waves at high tide, and still my attention was rapped.
While audience of about 40 people was quietly being seated on bleachers after a contemplative hike to the outdoor stage site, a bee came hovering near my young son and me. I tried to gently coax it away. But, it stung me, then hung stuck and squirming in my arm for a moment before flying directly into my drink. I whispered a four-letter response. I was reluctant to dump my drink, knowing the next hour or so would be spent sitting through a performance and then another slow hike back downhill. So, I fished the bugger out and let it buzz off.
It seemed a fitting prelude to the story about to unfold through Bob Martin's one-man performance exploring the human entanglement with nature, and the reflex for self-preservation that sometimes overpowers the need for natural conservation. Martin plays Ezell, a “land man” who tries to fund a noble ambition to reclaim family land by convincing his kinfolk to sell the natural gas extraction rights under theirs. It would allow a company to begin “fracking,” shooting water and other additives up to two miles down into the ground at pressures strong enough to crack rock and cause earthquakes.
Having watched Ezell’s evolution from a dispossessed, adventurous little boy to a war-scarred divorcee and estranged father, you want him to win. You want to believe as much as he does that there is a way to commodify and sell off some of nature while finding peace and redemption from the rest.
Audience photo by Erica Chambers, Ezell photos by Yamil Rodriguez
You want to believe that Ezell’s wild and sometimes explosive energy can turn his world – our world –right again. But the path to redemption is a hands and knees affair. Literally. Martin's physicality is a huge asset as he jumps onto and off of chest-high logs, scales a treehouse, runs with a pack of invisible dogs, crawls through the dust, adorns and unearths graves. He hauls fracking infrastructure and smashes it into the earth. He rages at the Internet. Meanwhile, Martin is his own stage crew manipulating the entire set as he embodies Ezell’s painful progression. If he tired at all, it was impossible to see.
Eventually, Ezell’s personal fiction is shattered. Black water seeping into his loved ones’ graves tells the truth. Then, just as rebukes his land man role and begins to find his way back to the land himself, he disappears into the woods. At that point the audience began our own journey back down the hillside to explore our role in the drama through simple ceremony.
This is the kind of approach to expect at Clear Creek, and it’s surprising how impactful even a brief time to re-engage with nature can be. For days afterward, when the throbbing in my arm had turned to constant itching, my mind also suffered lingering discomfort. What am I supposed to do now? What am I supposed to do better? Because you can't experience Ezell without finding yourself anxious to answer that question, which was the point of the whole thing.
Clear Creek Creative plans to tour Ezell: Ballad of a Land Man throughout Appalachia and across the U.S in 2020-2021. Their aim is “to share the work with other front-line fossil fuel extraction communities, post-industrial communities and indigenous communities who we believe will relate intrinsically to the content, trauma and resilience of this experience and with whom we are eager to learn and exchange.” The work stands on its own, however, showing “trauma and resilience” in a way that any person who’s lived enough life can understand.